By Adam Blake
USD 253 leadership approved delaying the start of fall classes until Sept. 2 under a hybrid in-person/remote learning plan for most Pre-K-12th grade students during a Wednesday evening meeting of the Emporia Public Schools Board of Education.
USD 253 Superintendent Kevin Case said additional discussion on the situation would take place during staff meetings scheduled for next week, and also told parents to expect more information to be released by email and social media at that time.
More information on the hybrid learning format for Pre-K-5th grade students — which was approved by the board 6-1 — can be found at go.boarddocs.com/ks/usd253/Board.nsf/files/BRYTKM763ADC. The grade 6-12 format — which also passed 6-1 and involves a phased rollout of students returning for in-person instruction— can be viewed at go.boarddocs.com/ks/usd253/Board.nsf/files/BRYTKP763AE4.
Specific details of both plans, district staff said, may change depending on virus numbers, but will follow the same basic outlines and principals regarding phased in-person classes.
“One challenge we have been wrestling with is how we go about providing additional training for staff and meet the master contract requirements along with the state-mandated 1,116 hour [of student-teacher instruction] requirement,” Case said. “We also know that this decision impacts the 2020-21 calendar. We have a calendar process in place for normal years, so, currently, we plan to use that process, probably somewhat modified, to gather staff input. That process would need to be fast-tracked, yet thoughtful. Teaching and learning [department staff are] working on some initial options which would then go to the [USD 253] professional development council which has staff representatives from each building. Ultimately, a new calendar would need to be approved by the board of education.”
Among benefits to student health and safety, Case said the delay would also allow for more planning time and a chance to gain needed community and staff input on both scheduling and methods of instruction. In moving forward, he listed three main priorities for the weeks ahead: Providing training and information that will further support staff in understanding and implementing appropriate safety procedures and protocols; Providing staff development opportunities to further-develop high-impact teaching strategies to enhance remote learning; and providing staff development opportunities that allow staff to gain greater clarity with the new competencies released in KSDE’s Navigating Change 2020 document.
In other business, the board was presented a preliminary draft of the district’s reopening plan for in-person instruction, which included a requirement that all students — pre-K to grade 12 — and staff are expected to adhere to Governor Laura Kelly’s recommendation of wearing masks at all times when proper social distancing practices cannot be maintained. The current text of the reopening plan states that doctor’s notes will be reviewed by school nurses for students that need exemption from mask wearing, and that plans for universal mask wearing are subject to change depending on further recommendations from local and state officials.
“Just like with anything that we do in schools in a normal year, we have to teach kindergartners the proper way to stand in line, head to the restroom, go to the nurse … to me, mask wearing is no different,” said Board President Michael Crouch. “We need to rely on our professionals to educate, monitor and help kids learn to wear them properly. I think that kids pick up things crazy fast, and that kids are willing to do things that we might not think they’re going to be willing to do. They just need to be held to the same standards that are already expected of them, because we see it in our schools all the time.”
Other items in the tentative reopening plan touched on procedures for temperature screenings as well as a list of symptoms which would exclude students from attending in-person classes. The plan states that all visitors should be “able to answer ‘no’” to the following questions: “Have you been in close contact with someone who has been diagnosed with, or is suspected to have COVID-19 within the last 14 days?” “Have you visited any of the restricted travel advisory locations on the KDHE or county public health list within the last 14 days?” and “Do you have a temperature over 100.4?” in addition to a list of exclusionary symptoms.
The exclusionary symptoms — which are the same for all district students, staff, parents and visitors — include any combination of fever of 100.4 or higher, chills, rigors, stiffness or rigidity, muscle or body aches, fatigue, headache, sore throat, diarrhea, lower respiratory illness including cough, shortness of breath, or difficulty breathing as well as a new loss of taste or smell.
The document further states that, “Students and employees exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 without other obvious explanations are prohibited from coming to school, and if they do come to school, they will be sent home immediately.” Additional information including the up-to-date list of district procedures and recommendations for health, classrooms, commons spaces, class transitions, extracurricular activities, special education and more can be accessed online at go.boarddocs.com/ks/usd253/Board.nsf/files/BRYTTT78F65E. For a summarized version, visit www.usd253.org/back-to-school-2020. The plans will be reviewed during next week’s meeting.
During the meeting, the Emporia Public Schools Board of Education also:
Heard a case risk assessment/recovery report from Lyon County Health Officer Renee Hively and Flint Hills Community Health Center Environmental Services Director Jennifer Milburn. Both advised against a “regular opening” of district schools.
Heard an outline of several in-person, online and hybrid learning models presented by USD 253 Executive Director of Elementary Education Vicki Schweinler and Executive Director of Secondary Education Wade Redeker
Reviewed treasurer’s reports for the end of June 2020 and the 2019-20 fiscal year
Signed a memorandum of agreement with Flint Hills Technical College for the continuation of concurrent credit post-secondary courses for area high school students
Signed a memorandum of agreement with Emporia State University allowing Emporia High School students the opportunity to earn high school and post-secondary credit simultaneously
^Accepted a $3,000 donation from the Emporia Community Foundation to the EHS Spartan Stop “to continue to meet the needs of students”